Literary Agent: Job Duties, Salary and Outlook

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a literary agent. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and experience to find out if this is the career for you.

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Essential Information

Literary agents represent authors to publishers. Agents may specialize in a literary genre or types of writers. These professionals establish and maintain relationships with publishers and clients. Many prospective literary agents seek a bachelor's degree in English, literature, writing or journalism. Literary agents may also wish to join a professional organization to connect with authors and publishers.

Required Education No official requirements, but many candidates seek a bachelor's degree in English, literature, writing or related field
Other Requirements Literary agents may opt to join a professional organization to connect with clients and publishers
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)* 10% (for broad field of all agents of artists, performers and athletes)
Median Salary (2013)* $64,490 (for broad field of all agents of artists, performers and athletes)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Duties for a Literary Agent

Literary agents review book manuscripts, provide feedback to authors, and negotiate business deals between authors and publishers. This may include overseeing licensing agreements, working to protect the author's interests, monitoring royalty rights, and ensuring that the author is receiving a fair portion of the book's profits.

Literary agents may sit down and discuss goals and plans when first meeting new clients. Agents may then begin promoting their client while also searching their lists of contacts and other sources to find the best fitting publisher. This requires agents to have a good sense of what is marketable to which publishers and how to help authors edit their work in a way that makes it more likely to sell. Once they forge a deal with a publisher, agents also advise authors on the terms of their contracts.

Literary agents devote time to cultivating relationships with publishing houses so that they may do business in the future. To do so, literary agents may join professional organizations like the Association of Authors' Representatives (AAR) that puts publishers, agents, and authors in touch (www.aaronline.org).

Salary for a Literary Agent

Literary agents work on commission rather than being paid a salary, so their annual incomes are based on the number and size of contracts that they broker between writers and publishers, and whether those contracts are for domestic, foreign, or subsidiary rights. The AAR code of ethics prohibits agents from charging reading or evaluation fees in addition to the commissions on sales.

Most commonly, agents earn 10-15% of domestic sales, though some experienced agents with successful track records may be able to contract for up to 20%, according to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (www.sfwa.org). Commissions earned for foreign sales range from 20-30%. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in May 2013 that the median annual salary for all agents and business managers of athletes, performers and artists was $64,490 (bls.gov).

Outlook for a Literary Agent

Literary agents are a small component of the publishing industry and likely to remain so, according to the College Foundation of North Carolina (www.cfnc.org). From 2012 to 2022, the BLS projected a ten percent growth rate for all agents and business managers of artists, performers and athletes. Changes in the literary publishing industry, such as digital books and self-publishing authors, may influence future demand for agents. Agents may start off as interns in a large agency before becoming independent.

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